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Sermon: The Parable of the Sower

MATTHEW 13:1-9, 18-23

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! Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."

Imagine that your life and the life of your entire family depends on the land. If you produce a crop, you live…but if something goes wrong and the crop fails…your family suffers and might even die.

Now, imagine the time to sow the seeds for this valuable crop arrives. How would you do it? Would you take your bag of seeds, go out, and just throw them wherever, hoping they will fall in a good place…or would you carefully make sure that your limited seeds were planted only in the best soil, so you could guarantee, more or less, that something would grow?

I think it is safe to say that all of us would be extremely careful…we would take our seeds and sow them in the best soil possible. We would do whatever it took to increase the chance of producing the most food for our family’s survival.

This reliance on the land and on the crops was the reality of those living in the 1st century world of Jesus who would have heard his parable of the sower, our Gospel reading for today. Often when we come to this parable, we focus on what the different kinds of soil represent, as Jesus does in his interpretation. However, we might also look at the sower and the example he sets for us… because, what is fascinating, is that the sower doesn’t do what most of us would do in his situation; in fact, he does the opposite. As Jesus describes, the sower goes out and throws the seeds all over the place, even on the worst ground, and the majority end up producing nothing…some seeds were eaten by birds, some quickly grew then died, some grew in thorns which destroyed the plants…and some fell in the good soil and produced crops. The sower seems careless with his seeds, which is not how most people might act. Thus, we have to wonder, why is the sower not more careful?? Why not make sure all of the seeds were put only in the good soil so none was wasted and he would get the most food, the best result possible??

If, following Jesus’ interpretation of the parable, we understand the seed to be God’s word and the sower as the one who spreads the word, Jesus’ image of this somewhat careless sower is meant to provide for us an example of how we are called to share God’s word with the world. Jesus calls us to be like the sower…we are not to be careful with the word, making sure we only spread it on the best soil…but we must spread it everywhere. We are not to hold onto the seeds, we are to throw them on every kind of soil, never giving up on where a crop might grow.

As I reflected on this parable and how best to illustrate the image of the sower and its model for us, my mind went to worship. As you have probably noticed, when it is time for Communion, before I say ‘the gifts of God for the people of God’, I have been experimenting with adding an invitation to Communion…a small phrase or few sentences welcoming everyone to come to God’s table. The reason for this stems from my experience. When my dad passed away in 2014, his funeral was held in the Catholic Church and when it came time for Communion, the priest made it very clear that only Catholics were allowed to receive. So I sat there, grieving my dad, while also being prevented from sharing Communion, just because I wasn’t the right denomination. At that moment, I knew I never wanted to cause anyone to feel what that priest caused me to feel…excluded, unworthy, like I was bad soil.

Worship is a place where seeds can be planted. When we gather here, we gather as all kinds of soil and we cannot exclude anyone because we think they might not be the right soil. Everyone who enters here has the potential to grow in God’s love, to receive the seeds of God’s word, and to find their lives changed….the more we are carefree with how we spread God’s word, the more opportunity we give for something to grow. We just never know when one word, when one act, like sharing the bread and wine, will touch one person and change a life.

The same holds true for when we are outside of this place, interacting with all kinds of people, all kinds of soil, on a daily basis…regardless of what someone looks like, how old they are, how they behave…if we freely sow love, care, and grace to everyone, we spread the seed, spread the word, and create endless opportunities for things to grow.

And it is so clear that Jesus lived this way during his ministry. He planted seeds in those on the lowest rung of society, tax collectors, sinners, the outcast…he continued to sow the good news even in the hearts of his disciples, who seem completely unable to grasp anything. Jesus doesn’t exclude, he doesn’t put barriers up, restricting his word only to some people, but he sows the seed in everyone, in every soil, and so we, too, must follow his example.

One scholar writes that Jesus’ image of the sower illustrates how “Jesus’ approach to mission is quite at odds with our play-it-safe instincts. He gives us freedom to take risks for the sake of the gospel. He endorses extravagant generosity in sowing the word, even in perilous places. Though we may wonder about the wisdom or efficiency of his methods, Jesus promises that the end result will be a bumper crop.”

As we come to Jesus’ parable today, he calls us not to hold onto our seeds and sow them only where we know they will grow, but we must be like the sower and sow the seeds everywhere. And we can do this both by how we live in the world and here in worship. We can spread the seeds of God’s word by welcoming all into this space, inviting all to share in God’s holy meal, and to receive God’s endless love. Because, ultimately, the seeds belong to God, we are called only to plant them and we must plant them everywhere, because we never know where they might grow. Amen.

For some examples of Invitations to Communion check out:

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