— A Sermon by Robert W. Prim —
~~~ 6th Sunday after Pentecost ~~~
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”
There have been a few vegetable gardens in my past. They became bigger projects than I imagined when I began, but these gardens of mine, such as they were, were nothing compared to some of the ones I’ve seen around here. My gardens were fairly neat. I had straight rows and clear paths between the growth. And the first year I planted I was frugal enough with my seed that I had enough left over for the next year.
I have to admit, however, I grew frustrated with gardening. It seemed whole lot of work compared to the price of tomatoes. It became for me yet one more area where I did not know what I was doing and who needs another place in one’s life where failure is inevitable. So, I gave it up.
The folks I know who garden well were a lot less uptight about it than I was. Their rows are not as neat as mine, and they live with and even enjoy the messiness of it all – bugs, mud, encroaching vines and branches. And they, the more relaxed gardeners, seemed to enjoy the spilling over of all that life, earthiness, produce. I wanted everything in its place with my garden. I wanted a garden that was decent and in order! A Presbyterian garden that is what I wanted!
(By the way, one of our common friends, a member of this church, mentioned back at the beginning of the pandemic that he thought we should have a community garden here at the church. I thought it was a great idea, but the virus and the close-knit planning that would have to take place to bring the idea to fruition scared us off. We may, I hope, come back to it. A garden out in our pasture would do us a world of good. I might even learn to relax about and enjoy the messiness – I could and others could too rely on the expertise of the many master gardeners in this congregation. As long as some of you were with me in the endeavor, I think I might actually enjoy planting some seeds and watching the growth!)
At any rate, contrast my Presbyterian garden – decent and in order – with the sower in Jesus’ parable. That sower threw seed everywhere. Like a kid trying to get through with chores so he could play – just tossing seed without even thinking about where they would land! Like a lover in the midst of a lover’s daydream, this sower did not seem to be paying attention to details – her mind was in other places. Seed gets slung around in every direction. Some fall on the sidewalk, some on the rocks, some in the weeds, and, almost as if by pure chance, some fall on good soil. The sower in Jesus’ story is awfully free with the seed. Jesus’ sower is not saving for next year. Jesus’ sower is not at all concerned with keeping the garden in a manageable space. Seed is just flying all over the place, like food off a baby tray!
Now I realize that modern farming techniques were not in use in Jesus’ time. Often planting was done before plowing, and farms of the first century in Palestine were not as well managed and productive as our fields of produce. But I still cannot help but believe that this sower, even by ancient standards, was sloppy! Jesus’ sower was sloppy beyond the norm of sloppiness. Jesus’ sower was down right reckless in the sowing of her seed.
Jesus seemed to be making the point that God, too, is reckless. God tosses God’s creative powers here, there, and everywhere such that no two snow flakes are the same, leaves, grass, clover all come in infinite variety; sky, sea, and land team with creatures innumerable and beyond measure in diversity. God’s creative powers are not exactly neat and bordered.
Just as God’s creative powers and recklessness are scattered about the natural world, so, too, is God’s creative power scattered about in seeds of love, grace, mercy, and kindness. These seeds are scattered throughout the world in innumerable ways and in an infinite variety. God is a “Johnny Appleseed” of grace!
So, it is no wonder God’s reign, God’s gifts of new life, spring up in the oddest, most unlikely places. Given God’s reckless sowing of love it is no wonder that grace, mercy, and abundant life take hold and flourish in places that seem too tucked away in darkness for growth in the Lord’s light and love.
Several Easters ago a Presbyterian minister friend read aloud an Easter sermon written by a woman named Martha. Martha, at that time, was an inmate at a Women’s Federal Prison Camp. She had been incarcerated for 15 months having pleaded guilty to simple possession of cocaine. My pastor friend had been visiting with her in prison, and in his visits he learned that Martha had graduated with honors from the University of Georgia, she had always held good jobs, and she had always maintained good health and appearance. But she started taking cocaine. Martha wrote in her introduction of herself to my friend’s congregation –
And I never, during that time or the following 15 years of drug usage, admitted to myself that I was addicted. But I was. And I know now that it destroyed all those years through leading me to wrong associations, three bad marriages, dwarfed ambitions, and many other long, hard detours on my road to successful life.
Martha got pregnant. She got arrested and was awaiting trial. She realized she didn’t want drugs to be a part of her life or her child’s life. So, she called her mother who responded immediately. Martha wrote –
She was in Fort Walton the next day, and stayed with me for over a month. We shopped, stayed up until 1:00 a.m. talking, laughing, crying; and we found a wonderful church which I joined. It was wonderful! My loving, saintly, 70 year old mother and I conquered drugs together.
I’ll close in a few moments with more from Martha’s story and sermon, but let it be sufficient now to say – God’s grace finds root and blossom in unlikely places because God throws out the seeds with little thought to who is deserving or to who might respond. Martha had abused God’s other gifts to her – a bright mind, a loving family, job opportunities – but God continued to sow seeds of grace in her life.
But to be realistic, as Jesus’ parable is realistic, not everyone responds in the appropriate way to God’s gifts. As Jesus tells the story, some of the seeds fell on people who were just closed to any relationship to the Almighty – like scattering seed on asphalt. Some seeds took only shallow roots, and these people responded with a flurry of energy and fervor only to fall away at the slightest provocation or disappointment or disagreement (maybe with the preacher or some other member of the community). Some seeds fell upon those who find worldly pursuits more interesting and enticing than the daily life of love and self-giving to which God’s grace compels us. Not everyone responds in the best way to the showering of love and grace that God offers the world in Jesus.
There is a young woman I know – in another town, in another state – who lost the home she built with Habitat for Humanity. She lost her home because she could not keep a job – though folks helped her find several good jobs. She would work for a while and then just fail to show-up. The strong suspicion was drug addiction. Over and over again this young woman had been given opportunities for a solid life; yet, over and over again she chose temporary fixes, highs, flights from reality. She is wasting her life and the gifts that have come her way. I only hope that she will one day see the beauty of her life and gifts. But for now, she is wasting the grace that has come her way. The seeds of love are not taking root and are not flowering.
And it is helpful for us to ask ourselves – what kind of soil are we in receiving the love and call of God in our lives? Do we close ourselves off? Do we respond but only with surface commitments and shallow convictions? Do we allow other things to take priority in our lives?
These are important questions, and if you are like me you will find that at various times in your life you have been all of these different kinds of soil. We go through stages of faith that are sometimes shallow and sometimes deep. We are sometimes closed off and sometimes opened up. We are sometimes desert sand and sometimes black belt earth.
Yet … and here is the most important truth to take away from this story … God is faithful still! The Gardener never loses heart! Seeds of love and mercy will be forever flung! God’s giving know no ending! God’s eternal sowing of the seeds of love and grace, will take root and blossom! God’s reign will come! Jesus said – other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundred fold, some sixty, some thirty. There is power in the Word of God embodied in Jesus Christ. Power that can change lives, change societies, change the world!
Hear what Martha wrote in her Easter message she entitled “Left Alone to Find Jesus” –
If we start listening for Jesus right now, we’ll hear Him calling our names…Through the noise of our fears, our wrong doings, our shortcomings, our disappointments, our doubts, our troubles, whatever … our name …we will hear it. And when we hear Jesus calling our name, answer, ‘Teacher,’ and the prison walls will tremble and come crashing down to the ground. And we will be free. Free to live life at its fullest with Christ, the risen Savior who is everywhere!
There is amazing power,
world shaking love
in the seeds that God is sowing so recklessly!
Thanks be to God,
the wildly loving and ever-patient Gardener,
who planted Christ in the world
that love might blossom!