September 10, 2017
Called to Sow Seeds of Life
Isaiah 55:10-13 (NRSV)
For 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.
For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
That day Jesus went out of the house and sat down beside the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he climbed into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the shore. And he told them many things in parables, like this one:
“A farmer went out to sow some seed. As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path, and birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted quickly because the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up, it scorched the plants, and they withered because they had no roots. Other seed fell among thorny plants, which grew up and choked out the seedlings. Other seed fell on good soil and produced a crop, in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one. Everyone who has ears should listen.”
“Now listen to what the parable of the farmer means.
Whenever people hear the word about the kingdom and don’t understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was planted in their hearts. This is the seed that was sown on the path.
As for the seed that was spread on rocky ground, this refers to people who hear the word and immediately receive it with joy. But because they have no roots, they last for only a little while. When they experience problems or abuse because of the word, they immediately fall away.
As for the seed that was spread among thorny plants, this refers to those who hear the word, but the worries of this life and the appeal of wealth choke out the word, and it yields nothing.
As for what was planted on good soil, this refers to those who hear and understand, and bear fruit and produce a crop—yielding a hundred, or sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”
* * * *
If you were here Easter Sunday you received a very special gift after the worship service: Do you remember? We handed out seed bombs. Trip wanted to give them out as kind of an invitation – these little balls of seeds were a symbol –little packets of beauty and life for us to hurl into the world wherever there was emptiness and need; a kind of living reminder of redemption, and what the resurrection means. Trip invited us to throw those seed bombs everywhere – barren places – empty lots – anywhere that was empty or ugly or needed a little beauty in the world.
When I listened to Trip preach that Sunday I found myself thinking about this passage, too, about Jesus’ words about sowing seeds wildly and indiscriminately. It sounded just like seed bombs – the farmer throwing seed everywhere - barren places – weedy places – good soil, too. Just throwing seed out indiscriminately. Not worrying about cultivating and preparing the soil and calculating yield. Just throwing the seeds, and trusting that some of them would sprout. And if they sprouted, knowing they’d make more seeds, and more and more and more… thirty-fold, or sixty, or a hundred times what was sown in the first place.
You just don’t know what will happen, Jesus seems to say. Throw them anyway.
In his Easter sermon, Trip gave us this challenge:
If we happen to come cross a person who feels abandoned and forgotten, throw a few seed bombs of kindness and compassion there, and know that that small act will grow into something beautiful.
If you notice brokenness and division in your community? Hurl some forgiveness and love over those fences! Sow some gratitude in that rocky soil. … and know that all this work, all of this daily effort is a tiny revolution! .[i]
Because you never know where it’s going to grow. You just don’t know.
We’re doing this series on Evangelism, the “E” word we’re calling it, since “Evangelism” is kind of a dirty word in some circles. We think it’s the equivalent of proselytizing, or shoving our religion down someone’s throat; it sounds holier-than-thou somehow, presumptuous at the very least. Like I think I’m better than you are, or I know better than you do. We’re wary about talking about our faith, uncertain what to do, not sure it’s worth the risk. So we don’t. We just don’t. We want to be polite and respectful so we don’t say anything at all. It’s a very easy way out.
But what if Evangelism were just an invitation? What if it’s just like throwing seed bombs? Just throwing it out there, not worrying about whether those seeds will grow? What if we thought we had something someone else might need or want; wouldn’t we want to share it? Aren’t we supposed to throw it out there?
It’s like what Trip said in his Easter sermon:
… We are called to make a practice of redemption. To work with God by bringing redemption to the people and places that seem most forgotten, the people and places that our world sees as unredeemable.
We’re supposed to throw those seeds everywhere.
Look, the only reason we’re here is because someone planted the seed of faith in us, and it grew. That’s the only reason we’re here. Because of another farmer somewhere else, we know what it feels like to be grounded in God’s love, to grow in a community of faith, to feel the light of Christ’s love and nourished in the water of baptism. What it’s like to thrive.
That’s what we’re supposed to share. That resurrection hope, that sense of possibility and life. We’re not meant to hoard those life-giving seeds to ourselves. And the truth is, we don’t know where they’re going to grow. We just don’t know.
Now, no farmer in his or her right mind would farm the way the farmer in the parable does. Even a suburban girl like me knows that much. You’ve got to prepare and plow that field, and you’re not going to bother with rocky soil unless you have no choice. I’m guessing you do a cost-benefit analysis of whether to grow soybeans or corn this year. You’ve probably done soil analysis so you know how to augment it if you need to. You can’t control the weather but you control everything else you can. Resources are expensive; you can’t afford to throw them away.
But that’s not the way God farms, apparently. God sows extravagantly, recklessly, lavishly, and lets it grow where it will, trusting there’ll be a bumper crop one place or another. [ii] And knowing a lot of it will die.
That’s a hard word to hear, I think. We go into this knowing full well that half of what we do will fail; maybe more. But we spread those seeds anyway.
Honestly? I also find that strangely comforting. It’s the nature of faith, the nature of church, that so much of what we do will fail to thrive. We don’t need to take it personally. It’s just the way it is.
In his commentary on Matthew, Tom Long puts it this way,
The church knows the truth of this parable. It takes the gospel into the world, hardly knowing where to cast the seed. A new idea for youth ministry falls flat on its face. A proposal for a needed neighborhood day-care center is choked out by bureaucratic regulations. A [new] evangelism program… generates no new church members. Hard soil. Scorching sun. Sharp thorns. The church knows the truth of this parable.
We know that new members come with great enthusiasm, only to discover that the people in this church are just as complicated and flawed as the ones in the last church they left disappointed. Parents baptize their children with great intent to raise them in the faith, but sports and activities crowd out their good intentions. You ask five friends to come to a small group or special event and one shows up, and then that one never comes again. It can be so disappointing.
I’ll tell you a secret. It’s every preacher’s secret. Our secret dream is that someday we’ll preach a Christmas or Easter sermon so profound, so deeply moving, that the next Sunday everyone will be here again for worship.
And it never, ever happens.
Maybe you start to wonder, is it worth it, trying to sow seeds? Why not concentrate on supporting the faithful people who are here; isn’t that more important, anyway? Isn’t it enough to be one big happy family? If people find their way in, great, but why bother going to the trouble of spreading all those seeds when the rate of return is so abysmal?
But you know, the oddest thing happens… and sometimes a seed will take root… and grow, and thrive… sometimes it surprises the heck out of you, where a seed will grow.
It’s not that we did anything so great this time. It’s not that we said all the right words and magic happened. It’s not that we worked so hard and all our efforts paid off. The seed just hit pay dirt.
You just keep throwing seeds.
That’s what evangelism is about. Not about preachers, but about you, in the pew, taking the seeds of your own faith and spreading them wildly.
It’s worth it. For just one seed to grow, it’s worth it.
You know how one dandelion produces a gazillion seeds? That’s the way faith is. Just one seed takes root, and – poof! – they’re everywhere.
Trip challenged us in that Easter sermon:
If we are to truly follow Christ.
If we are to truly identify ourselves with the risen Christ. Then resurrection is our calling.
To see hope and possibility where the world sees worthlessness…
To see potential where the world sees hopelessness
And not only see hope and see possibility, but to create it.
Our calling is to join God in redeeming creation’s brokenness.
Renewing it with beauty, Renewing it with love.
Make renewal and resurrection a daily practice! This is our work!
… To go where there is no life, to go where there is no hope and little by little. Seed by seed.
Through small subversive acts of love and redemption.
Show the world how new life in the risen Christ looks.
Please. Don’t keep these seeds to yourself. If only one life thrives, it’s worth it.
Rev. Karen Chakoian
First Presbyterian Church
[i] Trip Porch, “Sowers of Redemption,” preached 4/16/17 at First Presbyterian Church of Granville. http://www.granpres.org/sermons/2017/4/16/sowers-of-redemption
[ii] See Thomas G. Long, Matthew, Westminster Bible Companion Series [Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997], 147.