Seeds Everywhere

The Rev. Paul Nancarrow. This sermon is based on Matthew 13:1-9,18-23


Jesus said, “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell…” And from that point on, for the rest of the parable, all our attention is riveted to the seeds. Where will they fall? What kind of soil will they get mixed up with? Which seeds will grow and which seeds won’t? And the kicker question: What kind of seeds will we turn out to be?

But the great thing about parables is that they always mean more than you think they mean when you first start thinking about them. Parables have a way of getting inside your head and shifting things around. Somebody once described a parable as a story that has a trap-door in it: you go along, thinking you know exactly where the story is going, and then suddenly this trap-door opens and drops you into a whole other way of seeing things. Parables reveal new meanings when you look at them from different angles – and often that new meaning can get you to look at the world beyond the parable with a different angle as well.

In this parable, our attention gets fixated on the seeds. But what would it look like if we shifted our attention just a bit? What would we see if we asked, not so much “How can we make sure we’re like the right kind of seed?”, as “How can we become more like the sower?”

Because I think the sower in this parable is a really interesting character. The sower goes out to sow – and as he sows he throws the seed all over the place, on all the ground around, as far as his fling can reach. Now to be sure, in the ancient world, before the invention of the seed drill or other modern farming equipment, that’s how you sowed your field. You didn’t have time to make neat little rows and neat little furrows and put each seed carefully in its own place. You just threw the seeds out and did your best to cover your whole field.

But even by ancient standards, it seems to me that this sower is unusually vigorous in his sowing. He just throws his seeds out everywhere. It’s not like you can hear him thinking to himself, “That bit over there is close to the footpath; if seeds fell there they might be wasted; I won’t go sow over there” or “That patch of ground is pretty rocky; I don’t think I’ll waste seeds on that” or “You know, the weeds and thorns are always bad in that corner of the field; I think this year I’ll just skip that whole corner.” No, the sower goes out to sow and sows everywhere.

It’s as if this sower isn’t particularly concerned about wasting seeds. It’s as if he knows he has plenty of seeds, and there’s more where that came from, and what he really wants is not to safeguard the seed so much as it is to make sure that every patch of soil that has even the slightest possibility of growing a seed will not miss its chance to do so. So the seeds go everywhere, and there is nowhere that is without its seed. Some of the seeds don’t grow; but some do, and the ones that do grow yield thirty- and sixty- and a hundredfold – in other words, yield many more seeds than were sown in the first place.

It’s that extraordinarily generous sowing that makes the sower such an interesting character. In fact, the way Jesus talks about the sower in this parable is an awful lot like the way Jesus talks about God in all his teaching. God, Jesus says, gives to everyone, absolutely everyone. God, Jesus says, makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. God, Jesus says, desires mercy and not sacrifice; God welcomes the sinners; God rejoices with those who repent. God, Jesus says, doesn’t care so much about who does or does not “deserve” love as God cares about making sure that everyone who has even the slightest possibility of growing in love will not miss their chance to do so.

So God’s love goes everywhere, and there is nowhere that is without God’s love. Some of that love is not returned, there are some people who do not love God back with all their heart and all their soul and all their mind and all their strength; but some do return God’s love, and in them love grows thirty- and sixty- and a hundredfold.

And if Jesus says that about God in his teaching, then Jesus also and even more so shows that about God in his ministry. Jesus in this story behaves a lot like the sower in the parable.

The set-up for the parable tells us that Jesus is teaching a great crowd – such a great crowd that the only way they can all see him and hear him is for Jesus to get into a boat and push out from the shore while they all gather on the beach and the rise of land like a kind of natural amphitheater – the crowd is that big.

Now in the Gospels, big crowds are always tricky things, big crowds always mixed bags. This crowd includes people who are merely curious about Jesus and who’ve come just to see what Jesus is like. This crowd includes people who’ve heard that Jesus is a great healer, and who want to be healed themselves, who’ve come because they want to get something from Jesus. This crowd includes people who are hostile to Jesus, who’ve heard from their local rabbi or Pharisee that Jesus teaches things about the Law that are wrongheaded or unrighteous or downright dangerous, who’ve come because they want to catch Jesus saying something they can accuse him for. And this crowd includes people who have heard Jesus preach before, and who have been deeply moved by what he has to say, and who genuinely want to learn from him more about what God’s love really means and how God’s reign can come into their lives.

In fact, Jesus knows there are people in the crowd who fit the descriptions of all the different soils in his parable. And Jesus doesn’t say, “Only those of you who are good soil can stay and hear this.” Jesus doesn’t say, “You there, your heart is obviously hardened and sinful; you can’t listen to what I have to say, go away. And you, in the rich-looking robe, you’re wealthy, your soul is choked with the concerns of the world and the lure of wealth; you won’t be able to understand this, go away.” Of course Jesus doesn’t turn away anyone who comes to him, but he shares God’s word, he shares the seed of God’s grace, with everyone. Jesus seems to care less about protecting God’s word than he does about making sure that everyone who has even the remotest possibility of responding to God’s love will not miss their chance to do so.

So Jesus preaches the word, Jesus acts out God’s love, Jesus plants the seed of response in everyone, and there is no one without their seed. Jesus knows that not all those seeds will grow; but some will, and that growth will yield thirty- and sixty- and a hundredfold in love.

And here’s the trap-door in the parable: In this teaching Jesus not only promises that God’s love will grow in those who receive it, but Jesus promises that those in whom God’s love grows can turn around and share that love themselves, those in whom God’s love grows can turn around and become new sowers in their own right.

And that’s what makes the operative question in this parable not just “What kind of seed will we be?” but “How can we become more like the sower?” What is it that we can do to share God’s word, to act out God’s love, to proclaim God’s good news, to embody God’s living gospel, to scatter abroad God’s good seed, in all the things we do as a church gathered in community and as Christians sent out into the world? What is it we can do, not just to hold this seed to ourselves, but to throw it around all over the place, making sure that every moment that has even the remotest possibility of growing into a moment of love will not miss its chance to do so?

What can you do, this week, in some ordinary moment of your daily life, to sow the seed of God’s love – some unmeasured, uncalculated, wildly, improbably generous sowing of God’s love, whether you’re sure it’s going to grow or not, just sharing it – what can you do this week to be just a little bit more like the sower in your love?

Jesus said, “A sower went out to sow.” May we be sowers of God’s possibilities – and may God’s harvest be great. Amen.