Summary: If we are truly Christ’s disciples, then like the sower, we go out to sow the seeds through which God will work in the people of this world. If we are not doing this, then it is just as if our seed has been plucked up by a bird, scorched by the sun, or ch
Have you ever watched a farmer or gardener as he planted his crops at the beginning of the season? It is a meticulous process. First, the ground has to be prepared. Weeds have to be pulled, perhaps a little top soil or fertilizer needs to be put out. The dirt has to be loosened and tilled, and rocks have to be removed. Once the ground has been prepared, the farmer or gardener must prepare the rows in which the crops will be planted. Finally, the planting begins. The gardener gets down on his hands and knees with a trowel and carefully puts each seed an appropriate depth into the ground before covering it over again with dirt. The farmer goes through much the same process, except perhaps with a piece of farm machinery doing the majority of the work. In either case, planting seeds is a careful and thorough process. And once the seeds are planted, the work still continues. The seeds have to be watered. Weeds have to be pulled to keep them from choking out the plants. Animals and bugs have to be warded off. And if all goes well, the gardener will enjoy a bountiful harvest as the season progresses.
So it goes in the business of farming. These days, farmers and gardeners go to great lengths to ensure that no seeds are wasted. It is quite the opposite picture of the sower in Jesus’ parable we heard just a few moments ago. Here, the sower follows the practice of farmers in Jesus’ day, who spread the seed first, and then plowed the ground. Whether or not the seed grows, as Jesus tells us, depends simply on where the seed happens to fall. It is a powerful parable that carries with it two messages for any and all who will hear and understand.
Of course, one message of this parable is the explanation offered by Jesus, in which hearers of the kingdom message are compared to the different soils on which the seed is sown. We will focus on that message in a moment, but first I want us to explore together another message of this parable, and that relates not to the soils, but to the sower. You may or may not be aware that this parable is known by two names, "the parable of the soils," and "the parable of the sower." There is a good reason for that; as much as there is a message about the soil in which the seed is sown, there is also a message about the one doing the sowing.
As we think about the work of the sower in Jesus’ parable. Remember again, the task of the gardener described at the beginning of this sermon. He works diligently in one area to prepare the soil for planting. And then he plants there so that, hopefully, no seed is wasted. It is what any responsible, economically-minded gardener would do, right? But in those concentrated efforts, think of all the soil that didn’t receive any seed; that never even had a chance to produce a harvest!
Jesus intends that as we hear this parable, we will understand the Sower to represent God, or perhaps even Jesus himself. And the seed, of course, is the promise of God’s kingdom. When the sower throws out that seed, he does not know the quality of the soil on which it lands, he just throws out the seed indiscriminately. He seems willing to just fling that seed anywhere. Why would God do that? Maybe he does so to remind us that the gospel might be bigger than just good soil. Maybe the sower throws seed just anywhere in order to suggest that "anywhere" is, in the end, the total arena of God’s care, God’s activity; what we call God’s kingdom. This sower throws seed not only on good soil, like the diligent farmer, but also amid the rocky, barren, broken places, so all might know that God’s vision for the world often takes root in strange and even broken places.
A fellow minister tells of his visit to a juvenile court and detention center. Listen to his story:
"That place was so depressing, its landscape marked by wire-mesh gates with large padlocks and razor wire wrapped around electrified fences. When the doors clanged shut behind us, I imagined how final they must always sound when adolescents--children!--are escorted there. We were led, floor by floor, through this facility by an amazing young judge who worked there. She showed us the holding cells where the new inmates are processed. She showed us the classrooms where an ongoing education is at least attempted. She showed us the courtrooms where cases are prosecuted.
"Near the end of our tour, she led us down one bleak hall to give us a sense of the cells where young offenders lived. Each cell had a steel door with narrow slots about two-thirds of the way up, through which various pairs of eyes were watching us as we walked down the hall. Some of these children were accused of major crimes; some of them were repeat offenders. Most of them, we learned, had had little or no nurture across their brief lives--not from a primary adult who cared for them, not from family, not from neighborhood, not from church. It was hard to notice those eyes staring through narrow slots without doing something." He says. "So I lingered at one door and whispered to one pair of eyes: ’God loves you.’ The eyes did not appear to register much, and sometimes I wonder what, if anything happened next. Did that news fall on the path to get eaten by birds? Did it fall among thorns to get choked out? [We] will never know."