“Waiting on the Seeds”
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
July 12, 2020
Our scripture today comes from the gospel according to Matthew, the 13th chapter, verses 1-9 and 18-23. Listen now for God’s word to us this day.
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.”
Friends, this is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
During this period of shelter in place, advice about how to fill our time has not been scarce. The articles have been plentiful, encouraging us to take on a new hobby, learn a new skill, and to pay attention to self-care in order to keep our mind and body in the best condition they can be. I tried a new puzzle – because usually I love puzzles – but it did not quite hit the spot for me this time. And though I always enjoy spending time in my craft room, the one new activity that really grabbed and held my attention in the past several months was attempting to grow zucchini.
I am not alone this year in trying out a raised bed for the first time. Perhaps it had to do with the video that went viral near the beginning of quarantine with the Michigan doctor reminding us how important it was to wipe down groceries before putting them away in order to avoid contracting COVID-19.1. Growing one’s own veggies would certainly be cleaner and safer, right? Or perhaps it was the fear that there would be a shortage of certain grocery items, and people were convinced it was best to grow their own. Regardless of why people did it, I jumped on the bandwagon and began researching. While I knew I wanted to move ahead with the garden, I had certain things to consider first. I took into account not only the best placement to receive sunlight but also the soil I would use, how often I would need to water, and last but not least, the rules of my homeowners’ association. You see, according to the rules, a vegetable garden cannot be seen from the street, so I knew I would have to put it on the side of my house. The side of my house gets far more shade than sun, so there was no telling whether or not this would be a successful venture. I decided to forge ahead anyway and ordered a raised bed, garden soil, zucchini seeds, a new, longer hose, and fencing to keep the deer out.
Once everything was in place, I was ready to plant. I planted, I watered, and I waited. I watered and waited and then waited some more. The seed package said seven to ten days until seeds would sprout. Waiting on those seeds made me think back to our 2017 congregational retreat, “Good Soil.” In November of that year, Rev. Ben Johnston- Krase and Rev. Allen Brimer, co-planters of Farm Church, came to UPC for a follow-up gathering after keynoting at our retreat. That evening, Ben and Allen reminded us to “Remember the power of seeds. The seed sits and it waits and has all this powerful potential in it. And it will wait a long, long time.”2 Right about day 12, when I was ready to give up on my not-so-sunny garden, I saw them! Green shoots coming up out of that beautiful garden soil. You would have thought I had won the lottery with the audible squeal that came from my mouth that day.
In our scripture today in the gospel according to Matthew, the scene feels much the same. We hear at the beginning, “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed…”3 The story goes on from there, but that is the last we hear of the sower, at least by that title. Once the seeds are in the ground, the rest is up to God. But I still have to wonder why the sower would even think about throwing seeds in every direction, knowing that some would land on the path, on the rocky soil, and among thorns. Why not at least try to ensure the seeds fell upon fertile ground so they would stand more of a chance of producing fruit? Unless this text is telling us more about God than first meets the eye…
One of the challenging things about parables is trying to unpack what God might be saying to us through them. In my opinion, parables do not have only one meaning but instead can mean different things to different people on different days. In this particular parable, are we the soil? Do we have different types of soil in us and God plants seeds and uses us to help them grow? Or maybe we are the seeds? God plants us and waters and nurtures us to bear fruit in the world. The explanation that is sticking with me these days is one that suggests God, the Sower, is sowing seeds through us.
I wonder if, when we hear this scripture, we focus too much on the seeds that did not grow, so much so that we miss the huge thing that God has done with the seeds in the good soil. Commentators on this text inform us that a seven-to-tenfold harvest would have been average.4 And in this text, even when some seeds fell on paths, rocky soil, or among thorns, the seeds that fell on good soil “brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”5 Regardless of where we fall in the parable, of one thing I am certain. It is not about us. God is most definitely the star of the story.
Another thing Ben and Allen told us was that “0ne tablespoon of good topsoil has more life forms in it than there are people on the planet. There are more than seven billion life forms in one tablespoon of soil.”6 Knowing that, it makes good sense that such a plentiful harvest could come from just a portion of the seeds – the ones that landed in good, healthy soil.
In the whole scenario of me trying to grow zucchini, I was struck by how little I was actually involved in the process. Sure, I had to purchase the raised bed and dump the soil into it and do the watering, but the growing? I had zero control over how and when that took place. The jury is still out on whether I will one day see actual zucchini on that vine, although it has certainly produced beautiful green leaves.
Though we may feel at times as if we are the ones doing the work, it is God doing the work through us. In 1 Corinthians chapter three, Paul reminds us that “neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose… for we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field.”7 This parable is saying something to us, is teaching us about something bigger. When Jesus says, “But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit,”8 I think that is a reminder to us of who God is. Why would the Sower throw the seeds in every direction? Because God can use them all. We tend to put God in a box, thinking that the rocks and thorns will get in the way, but God is bigger than any box we can create. God can overcome rocks and thorns.
In these days of pondering and working on what it means to be better neighbors to our black and brown siblings, I wonder what seeds are being sown. We may find ourselves wishing seeds that were sown long ago had fallen among thorns so as not to have taken root among us. But here we are, seeking justice and working to change the way things have been until now. What seeds are being sown in us, and what seeds are we sowing for future generations? What difference are we making in the world NOW, and what are we teaching to those younger than we are about what it means to be part of God’s big family? As seeds continue to be sown, if we do the work along the way with God’s help, then yes, I believe God will produce a harvest.
Truth be told, not all seeds will fall on good soil. There will be concrete paths, areas of rocky soil, and thorns that make it difficult for new life to flourish. We all know that things get in the way of what is intended for good. Yet God can use it all. God can bring good out of any situation, even when all we can see are rocks and thorns, obstacles, delays, and roadblocks. May we find ways to see the big picture and know that God holds it all.
In just a couple of minutes we will listen and sing along to a new hymn written by David LaMotte. David, a songwriter, speaker, writer, and peacemaker, was to have been the keynote speaker at our congregational retreat this September. Though we have had to cancel the retreat for this year, it is our sincere hope to have David with us in 2021 as together we explore the “Path of Peace” theme. The hymn, “‘God of the Movements and Martyrs’, was written by David LaMotte in honor of the 85th anniversary of the North Carolina Council of Churches. The Council was formed in 1935 to address racial injustice, and continues to work for peace, justice, equity, and inclusion. The hymn honors those whose faith has called them to work for peace and justice, past, present, and future, and invites all of us to join in that sacred work.”9
For 85 years, God has been working through this Council to sow seeds. The hymn references the powerless, broken, hopeless, and unreconciled and also the just and the faithful. Each word was carefully chosen, and the hymn bears a powerful message. David’s words have been a real gift to me in recent days, and I expect many of you will feel the same. I find that many of his words are a charge to us at this unique time in history. Listen for a few excerpts:
“Now it’s our turn to do justice, humbly we rise to the day. Give us the strength and the wisdom to walk in your way… Walk in compassion and mercy, by love we’ll be led… No matter your creed or your country, no matter the hue of your skin, your age, who you love, or the body your soul was born in.”10
There are seeds to be sown, and there is watering to be done. Growth only happens if first the seeds are planted. May we be fertile ground that God can use for God’s work in the world. And when the seeds fall on the rocky and thorny parts of us, may God even then use it all for good.
David LaMotte ends the hymn by saying, “Join us in work of the kingdom, we welcome you home.”11 There is work to be done, my friends. And God has work to do through us. “Let anyone with ears listen!”12 Let us join together and get to it. Amen.
2 Rev. Ben Johnston-Krase and Rev. Allen Brimer, Farm Church talk at UPC, 11/14/17
3 Matthew 13:3-4 (NRSV)
4 Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary commentary Based on the NRSV – Year A, p. 404
5 Matthew 13:8 (NRSV)
6 Rev. Ben Johnston-Krase and Rev. Allen Brimer, Farm Church talk at UPC, 11/14/17
7 1 Corinthians 3:7-9 (NRSV)
8 Matthew 13:23 (NRSV)
9 https://www.convergencemp.com/god-of-the-movements-and- martyrs.html?fbclid=IwAR0jkcRfjK_SM7H8OOpxQaJ0ZolHraY_gOaAHabljDSIvibPykzITyHtmks
12 Matthew 13:9 (NRSV)