Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Pentecost 6, July 12, 2020
St. Martin, North Vancouver
Dear God, when I bring you the first fruits you get what you get: you get my energy, my imagination, my scribbling, my experimentation, my dreams. You get the raw me.
Part of me would prefer to bring you the finished article: the tried and tested formula, the buffed and polished carving, the machine that I know will work.
But that is not what you ask for; because you want to be with me in the making, in the messiness, the uncertainty, the laughter and the pain. God of the first fruits, here I am. Come and work with me always. Amen.
– Ruth Burgess, from Bare Feet and Buttercups
When I plant a garden, I like to see results. The trouble is, I also like parsnips. And parsnips (for me at least) present a challenge. Those little, light seeds yield an unpredictable crop each year. No matter how I try and control the conditions for optimal growth, the results don’t seem to have anything to do with me. Preparing the soil by digging manure deep and adding sand for drainage, pre-soaking the seeds, waiting for the right temperature…. This spring I followed the packet instructions to the letter and measured how deep and how far apart each hole should be. And then, because germination was listed at 60%, I put two seeds in each.
I waited. I waited some more, because it can take up to three weeks for the little sprouts to emerge. And what did I get for all my work? Some came up robustly, some crowded three or four together (how did that happen? I counted the seeds!). And there were stretches where nothing at all emerged from that good prepared soil. That’s not how the story is supposed to go at all. It good me wondering- who decides what is good soil?
Jesus tells us the story of the sower who goes out to plant a crop- probably not parsnips. This individual doesn’t seem to bother with a planting guide. The seed is thrown out, broadcast. Wherever it falls, it falls: on the road, in the rocks, in the weeds, in the dirt.
Isn’t this wasteful? Seed is precious. You want a return for your investment. Farmers who have to store seed over the winter often have to gauge how much they can use as food for their family and how much they have to save to get a harvest to sustain them through the coming year. By the time that is planting season, it’s a gamble to get it into the ground for the next cycle.
And isn’t this stupid? We don’t know whether the ground was prepared beforehand, but even losing a portion on the borders of your field or a path that runs through it doesn’t seem like a good idea. Maybe get rid of the rocks or the weeds or learn not to chuck the seed there through improved farming technique.
But the Sower is indiscriminate. It is up to the seed to sprout where it will. Certainly some will land in fertile ground. Even then, there may be reasons it does not flourish. Maybe that same rich soil that feeds a food crop is also the destination of thousands of weeds! Who knows what might yield a harvest? Some plants, after all, are tougher than others. Dandelions grow through cracks in pavement and olive trees can survive for hundreds of years on rocky ground. The one who sows the seed takes a chance that what others might reject as barren ground may actually be an environment that produces results. Restricting the sowing to the places that seem hospitable reduces the scope of the enterprise. The Sower is out to spread the word of the kingdom throughout the land.
I wonder what the entrepreneurial Spirit of God is saying to us about sharing the Word? We don’t want to be like farmers eating the seed during the winter and not getting out to plant another crop come spring. And maybe we need a little encouragement to be brave about broadcasting. How have we been reaching out beyond the borders of our expectations through the new things we have tried? Can we continue to support the communications we have and push the edges of what we consider community? Where do we need to invest energy and resources? And if something fails to grow, are we willing to count that as part of the cost and look around at what is showing signs of fruit?
It’s not parsnips that we are helping to grow, of course. It’s the word of God within our own lives and in the lives of those we are able to connect with through this community. Today feels like a new start as we re-gather, some of us in person and some of us by extension through the technologies we have adapted. But the word of God is cast much further than the circle here. As we evolve into new ways of being Church during this phase of our life, we are called to hear the parable of the Sower. May our hearts find room to allow God’s seeds of truth, love, and compassion to take root.
And let’s make room for others, lest we become the stony ground or the rocks or weeds that choke their ability to respond. That too defeats God’s purpose in spreading the seed far. Right now in society there is a tendency to shut people down who have expressed inappropriate or poorly judged opinions. This “cancel culture” may be right in directly naming the sin. However, ostracizing the person and erasing their former contributions doesn’t seem to create dialogue so much as a holier-than-thou attitude. Could we have a role in helping ourselves and others remove some of the judgmental barriers so that a more compassionate and just conversation can flourish?
We are all situated in a particular soil of privilege, culture, opportunity, ability, and difference. God shows no preference except to those who are ready to hear and receive. The word of life is open and available to all. It is our decision to work from where we are. The promise is that results will follow, for “the one who hears and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (vs. 23). Amen.