Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Let’s hear the story again. A sower went out to sow. (I should say as an aside that sewing here is not sewing with a needle and thread, sew but sow which means planting seeds.) A sower went out to sow And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.
The sower is upset. All that work for nothing. How dare those birds mess up his project! He goes to Home Depot and asks what kind of trap they might have to deal with pesty birds. Somebody trying to be helpful overhears him and says Ever hear of a scarecrow? Actually, he has heard of that and he’s read online that scarecrows are not very effective, but crows and some other birds are afraid of owls, so he buys an owl statue and lugs it home to set up in the garden. He also buys some extra large rolls of aluminan foil. When he gets home, he sets up the owl and surrounds the fence with the foil in another effort to keep the birds away.
Then he gets back to sowing his seeds, but notices that large areas of the ground are very rocky. So he goes into his tool shed and brings out a shovel and wheelbarrow. Instead of planting seeds, he finds himself spending hours and hours digging up rocks, loading them into the wheelbarrow and carting them away wondering what to do with them. But he didn’t have much time to wonder. He remembered all the seed still waiting to be planted and he began to sow again.
This time he finds himself in a briar patch. Now he has to go back again to Home Depot to find some weed killer. But when he gets there, they are all out of it! They sell him some heavy duty gloves and suggest that he pull out the thorny brambles by hand, which is more environmentaly friendly anyway. Well, by the time he’s done with that, the man is wiped out. He falls sleep in his chair half reading seed catalogues, and half watching a Criminal Minds rerun.
When he wakes up the next morning, the first thing he sees is a crow sitting on top of the owl statue. He goes outside and notices all the rocks he missed the first time. And it seems that more thorny weeds have sprung up overnight. At that point, the sower and went out for a mocca frappecino, forgetting all about the near full bag of seeds.
Well, who could blame the poor man? What’s the point of all that work, all that effort, when the same problems keep rising up as sure as the sun rises in the morning, as sure as thorny weeds keep coming up and coming up. The parsonage I used to live in had a back yard and I used to host a church women’s group there in the spring and summer. One week, I invited anyone who wanted to come early, to come and help me fix up the garden. Two women came. Even though it was hard work, pulling out weeds for several hours, we had a good time doing it together. One of the women, Delores, especially enjoyed it because she told me that she had never had the chance to work in a garden before. A few weeks later, Delores came back. She looked around and was shocked. But I thought we got rid of all the weeds! she said. Having never worked in a garden before, Delores had no idea that the weeds just keep coming back and you have to keep on pulling them out, over and over again.
Lots of things are like that. What is it a bout churches and leaky rooves? Or plumbing problems. Or boilers. Or mice. You fix one thing and then there’s something else do to. Lots of pesky things that can keep you from doing what you REALLY want to do. What you really are called to do… sowing the seed, the good news of Jesus. I’m sure you can come up with your own life examples. The demands, discouragements and drivil and that distract us from what we really feel called to be doing.
Sometimes we can get so caught up in attedning to this problem and that leak, the crows and the rocks and the thorns that we forget why we are really here… to praise and glorigy and thank God and to tell our neighbors about the love of God through word and deed. Jesus tells this story in the middle of other stories, stories about his followers experiencing frustration, rejection, difficulties, and NOT getting the results they want. This parable from Jesus is an answer to the question, what went wrong? What are we doing wrong? Where the results? Maybe this is how things are Jesus says, in farming and in faith.
One thing that stands out in the story of the Sower and the Seeds is that God’s grace seems so awfully inefficient and ineffective. The farmer in the story appears to be wasting a lot of seeds. Unlike the man in my version of the story, who gives up and goes to Starbucks, The farmer in Jesus’ version just keeps on sowing, throwing seeds here and there and everywhere, on good soil and bad, on rocks and thorns and where the crows are waiting. He just keeps throwing out the seeds without appearing to pay any attention or do any calucation about the possible results. What kind of farmer is that? 3/4 of seed fails to thrive, 75 percnet of the seed is wasted and he just keeps sowing away, throwing away all that seed.
That’s how many people felt about Jesus. He was wasting his time and energy on neerdowells, wasting it on people who didn’t appreciate it. wasting it on uneducated fishermen and samaritan lepers, on women and children, wasting it on people anyone with eyes could see were not going to be real good fruitbearers.
People who were like bad soil. That seems to be the explanation we read later on in the gospel. But that explanation was added later on, kind of like a sermon preached by Matthew to his church about Jesus parable, but it was not likely part of the original. Parables are meant to be read in different ways with varied meanings. In fact. NO other parable has a tacked on explanation. Because the hearer of a parable is expected to mull it over- and over and over. Matthew sermony explanation makes sense but, it may not be the only way to read Jesus’ parable or preach on it. We see in the parable that the seeds flourish depending on their location.
That can be true of people too and some people have an advantage due to their social or geographical location. What school district you fall in for example. Or social location which means that some children can do well with online schooling because they have more at home resources than others. Some people are more at risk from corona virus because of their location, because they are forced to live in over-crowded circumstances.
Like the seeds that end up on the side of the road, some people are pushed to the sidelines by red lining, generational economic disadvantage, immigration status and/or skin color. Some find themselves choked by thorns, the explanation is choked by “the cares of the world and the lure of wealth” thorny arms that do still grab hold but we know of other chokeholds that crush life and prevent thriving futures.
Then we have the seeds that fall upon rocky ground. Or as James Weldon Johnson put it: stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod felt in the days when hope unborn had died. Just as we read about the seeds that wither in the hot sun, hope that died. The greek word for wither here is the exact word jesus uses in the chapter just before this to describe a man with a withered hand. So the connection is begging to be made. Did Jesus condemn the man to a hopeless life of fruitlessness? Blame the victim for this withering? No Jesus heals his hand. Jesus restores that man to his community so that he can flourish.
Before this parable of the sower, Jesus had already preached his sermon on the mount with a series of strange blessings. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek, the persecuted the marginalized. Jesus embodies a God who cares about all the seeds and all the soils. All social, geographical and economic locations. Would Jesus say blessed are the seeds in the good soil look how well they do and turn away from the rest? Does Jesus give up on anyone? In his essay, The Sower and the Seed and BLM, Dr. Raj Nadella writes: The blessed in Matthew are precisely those who fall by the wayside, on rocky soil, and are grasping for life.
Our parable challenges the church and offers deep comfort. As urban farmers we don’t just throw seeds, we also prepare and tend the soil, working so that life can flower and flourish in all locations so that all places become fruitful spaces of justice and mercy and hope. So that even the pavement in front of Trump Tower becomes a banner for Black Lives Matter. When we tire or when our efforts seem futile, when our own lives feel overcome with thorns and rocky obstacles, we have the comfort of knowing that our Sower will never, ever abandon us or give up on us.
Let me tell you about another sower. She loved children but could not have any of her own. Then she and her husband adopted a daughter. But despite all the love they could give, there were thorns, and crows and burning sun. Her daughter, her only child, became addicted to drugs. People shook their heads. What a waste. What a waste. But the sower didn’t give up. She began making dolls, toys, blankets, quilts and infant clothes for babies born addicted to drugs. Children labeled in those days as crack babies.
The sower also worked to rearrange the soil and plant seeds in other areas. She was active in the Congress of Racial Equality, the Civil Rights Movement and the Brooklyn NAACP. She served on the Board of the Lexington Children’s Center And she cooked, not only for family and friends but also for others, in fact she often baked cakes and cookies for the children in our after school program.
This sower might have given up on church after being told as a child that she could only sit in the balcony of a neighborhood congregation due to her race. But she didn’t give up. In spite of the bad example of his followers, she caught a true glimpse of our sower/savior. And she kept going, sowing love, healing and hope in spite of deep personal disappointment, Eventually her daughter was able to be in recovery. Then our sower got cancer. What a waste. What a waste. She keep going as long as she could. Sowing. Loving. Helping. Her name was Ivy Hicks, the sister of Trinity’s oldest member, 96 year old Lucille Donovan. I had the job of meeting Ivy when I first came to Trinity and we held her funeral here not too long after. I have no doubt that when she went to meet Jesus he said well done my good and faithful servant, my dear sower of seeds.
Before concluding, let’s check back with our sower with his mocha frappachino. While he was drinking it his mind drifted back to the unsown seeds. And the One who had first entrusted them to him. He went back and he began to sow, all over the place. Right in the face of the crows and the rocks and the thorns. It made no sense. People gathered to watch him and laugh. But he was happier than he had ever been in his life.
Those who have ears let them hear. Amen.