Scripture: Matthew 13: 1- 9, 18 – 23
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
February 5, 2017
A farmer sows seed with wild abandon. (Sprinkle seed.) As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path. (Put lit candle on sand.) Some fell on rocks. (Put lit candle on rocks.) Other seed fell among thorns. (Put lit candle on twigs.) Still other seed fell on good soil. (Put lit candles on soil.)
I was 12 years old when I first saw the musical “Godspell”. It was then, in the production of this play, that this parable on Kingdom / Kin-dom Living came alive for me. There were four rambunctious actors dressed like clowns playing the role of the seeds, each of them meeting a different fate. The seed that was cast on the path no sooner hit the ground than the actors making crow noises flapped down and gobbled him up. The seed that was cast on rocky ground came to life with a bang, waving her arms around and dancing in place, but then another actor came over carry a big yellow cardboard sun and that actor stood over her. Well, you know what happened, the actor playing the seed grew limp and crumpled to the stage.
The seed that was cast among thorns barely had time to get to his knees before he was surrounded by prickly looking characters who got their hands around his neck and chocked him. He was quite the actor; he made lots of noise and took a long time moaning and groaning before he too bit the dust. Then there was the seed that was cast on good soil, who came gracefully to life and stayed alive, bowing as both the audience and her fellow actors gave her a round of applause.
Now, there I am sitting in this auditorium at 12 years old and I began to worry about what kind of soil was I. What does the soil of my heart look like? Is it hard soil – unwilling to hear? Well, yes, there are times when I have my mind made up and I am unwilling to listen to those on the other side. Or, I began to wonder, is the soil of my heart like that of rocky ground? Do I become passionate about an issue quickly and then does that passion begin to fade in the months and weeks ahead? Well, ues. It’s called being an “alka seltzer” hearer in which a person fizzles with excitement for a short while and then the fizzle no longer sizzles. The emotion is gone, so the commitment is gone. And then I wonder, about the seed sown among the thorns – is the soil of my heart “choked” soil – distracted by the noise and demands of everyday life? Am I too busy? Well, at times yes! Jesus says for those people some fruit will come up, but it will be small, anemic and tasteless. Certainly, there is a difference between being busy and being fruitful.
As I sat and listened to this parable at age 12, I began to worry about how I could clean my act up – how can I turn myself into a well-tilled, well-weeded, well-fertilized field for the sowing of God’s love?
It was not until years later that I discovered that the name of this parable is not “The Parable of the Soil,” but “The Parable of the Sower.” I wondered did I get this parable backwards all these years? Could it be that this parable is not about my own successes and failures and birds and rocks and thorns, but about the extravagance of a sower who flings seed everywhere and it flies in all directions? This is no careful, prudent planter. Far from cautious, this farmer wastes the seed with holy abandon. This farmer throws grace in every place! That was my first “aha” moment in encountering this text (Barbara Brown Taylor, The Seeds of Heaven).
But there was another “aha” moment, a second one. This parable contains a surprise. Just at the point when the pattern of defeat seems confirmed, when one disaster after another (the hard soil, the rocky soil, the choked soil) would lead most sowers to give up farming altogether – a few seeds take root in good soil and burst forth with an unexpectedly abundant harvest. A harvest beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Seeds that brought forth tenfold was thought to be a good harvest, but a thirtyfold, sixtyfold, hundredfold harvest (Tom Long, Matthew Commentary, p. 147)?
I once heard a story about a man who was ready to quit in life. He tells this story,
One day I decided to quit. . . I quit my job, my relationships, my spirituality. . . I wanted to quit my life. I went to the woods to have one last talk with God. “God,” I said. “Can you give me one good reason not to quit?” God’s answer surprised me. . .
“Look around, do you see the fern and the bamboo?’
“Yes,” I replied.
“When I planted the fern and the bamboo seeds, I took good care of them. I gave them light. I gave them water. The fern quickly grew from the earth. Its brilliant green covered the floor. Yet nothing came from the bamboo seed. But I did not quit on the bamboo. In the second year the Fern grew more vibrant and plentiful. And again nothing came from the bamboo seed. But I did not quit on the bamboo.” God said, “In the third year, there was still nothing from the bamboo seed. But I would not quit. In the fourth year, again, there was nothing from the bamboo seed. I would not quit.” God said, “Then in the fifth year, a tiny sprout emerged from the earth. Compared to the fern it was seemingly small and insignificant. But just 6 months later the bamboo rose to over 100 feet tall. It had spent the five years growing roots. These roots made it strong and gave it what it needed to survive. I would not give any of my creations a challenge it could not handle.”
God said, “Did you know that all this time you have been struggling, you have actually been growing roots. I would not quit on the bamboo and I will never quit on you. Don’t compare yourself to others. The bamboo had a different purpose then the fern, yet, they both make the forest beautiful.”
“Your time has come,” God said to me. “You will rise high!”
“How high should I rise?” I asked.
“How high will the bamboo rise?” God asked in return.
“As high as it can?” I questioned.
“Yes,” God said, “Rise high to the sky.”
I left the forest and brought back this story. God will never give up on you. Good days give you happiness. Bad days give you experiences. Both are essential to life. (Author Unknown, “The Story of the Fern and the Bamboo”).
This is a time for deep roots. This is the time to trust that just when the pattern of defeat seems confirmed, a harvest will burst forth in abundance! Yes, we know about hard soil, the scorching sun, sharp thorns, but we also know about the good news of the extravagant sower. We know about trials, sorrows and challenges – and we know the good news of 100 foot bamboo. We know about Good Fridays, closed tombs, and defeat – but we also know the good news of Easter morning. This may be a time, for some of us, to grow roots.
And this is the season for planting. This morning I invite you to follow in the footsteps of the extravagant sower. You will receive a packet of sunflower seeds, which says “Caution: Seeds Contain Love”. Remember sunflowers get their name “sunflowers” because they follow the sun – may we follow this one, too, we call “son of God”. May we follow in the footsteps of this extravagant sower and sow seeds with wild abandon. There are about 50 seeds in each packet. Imagine 100 people each planting 50 seeds of kindness, of love, of justice – that is 5000 seeds planted by this community of faith alone. Between now and Easter, I invite you, encourage you, challenge you to intentionally plant 50 seeds, to do 50 acts of kindness, compassion, and / or justice – and I commit to doing the same. (This amounts to 5 seeds / acts per week.) Let’s trust that a few of the seeds will take root. Inch by inch. Row by row. We’re gonna make this garden grow.