Let the Seeds Fall Where They May – July 16, 2017

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Sermon Preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 16, 2017

Isaiah 55:10-13; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

Jesus was a very clever story-teller. He used these short vignettes called “parables” to teach his audience about the kingdom of God and how to recognize it in their midst. These parables are the way he confronted and inspired—not in a rigid, dogmatic way—but through the gentle art of story-telling and vivid metaphor.

Parables are simple enough to understand but the glitch is that too often we end up focusing on the wrong thing. Take, for example, this morning’s story about the sower and the seed. It may be our first inclination to ask why the person wasted all that seed knowing where much of it would end up. Is that smart farming? Why not plant seed only in the very best of soil?

It’s interesting how much Bible stories have influenced the work of some of the great artists. Jean Millet’s Sower depicts a large, muscled man striding over the field with unwavering recklessness. It’s a dark-colored canvas, dwelling on questions of weather, predators, how well the soil was prepared, and whether the sun will appear.

Vincent Van Gogh’s work, on the contrary, is full of vibrant color, the golden sun beating down on fields already about to burst into bloom. The sower here strides and throws, full of hope for what the future harvest will be.

Jesus’ story would have appealed to his audience of rural workers. In his day the sower carried a container of some sort with one arm and with the other he scattered the seed in a circular motion. But the parable Jesus told suggests that broadcast throwing is chancy and unpredictable. There is no way of orchestrating that all of it would fall where it would grow.

That’s not the way modern farming works where seeds are sown by giant metal machinery guided by GPS. There isn’t much chance of the seed going too far askew. Technology has made a big difference. We may be so far removed from the old way of sowing seeds to fully grasp the meaning of the lessons in the parable. So where do we find relevance in the parable of the sower?

This parable is not about us. It is about God’s unwavering abundance and God’s proclivity to broadcast the Good News of unconditional love and welcome on all kinds of ground and in all sorts of unexpected places, even those places which seem least conducive to growth. It’s not about our control of the seed that has been scattered, but rather about the power of God to grow a harvest even in the unlikeliest of settings and circumstances. The seed often grows in ground we might dismiss as worthless. God’s reign will arrive in spite of all the obstacles the seed must face.

Picture God as the sower who indiscriminately scatters the seed of the word through God’s grace and who will set no limits on how much seed to sow in order to reach every single human heart. The Good News of God’s radical love is for everyone without exception.

It does beg us to consider our generosity as a community to whom that message has been entrusted. How well and how openhandedly do we spread and broadcast what God has so freely given and in such abundance. How bigheartedly do we share the Good News of God’s Radical Welcome and amazing grace with those beyond our doors? How often do we talk about it?
God of the harvest is at work within the field of our everyday experience sowing seeds all over the place, taking chances on how well they may grow, forgiving our failures, and loving us in the midst of our struggling faith and persistent doubts. God is present in all of it and in God’s eyes all ground is holy, all ground is good.

If we’re going to partner with God in this endeavor, we can’t play it safe, sowing the word only where we are confident it will be well received. We can’t hold on tightly to our resources or stifle creativity and energy, or resist new ideas for fear they might not work, and we must allow for some mistakes along the way. God the Sower gives us freedom to take risks for the sake of the gospel and promises that the end result will surprise us.

How does this farmer’s story challenge us? Jesus doesn’t want us to ask how good the soil is or if too much seed has been scattered and wasted, but whether we really believe in the power of God to grow a harvest in spite of any obstacles that we face as a community of faith and how willing we are to be as extravagant as God in sharing the Good News and the life we have discovered.

But here’s the big disclaimer: It’s not our efforts alone but what God does that brings about a harvest. Growth takes place in hidden ways, on God’s timetable, not ours. We just need to pick up our bag of seeds, go out and start broadcasting. Let them fall where they may and trust that God will do the rest.

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