Sermon: "Sowing Profligately While Singing “Hallelujah”"
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Genesis 25.19-34; Psalm 119.105-112; Romans 8.1-11; Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23
Last Sunday we considered Jesus’ invitation: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11.28-30; NRSV). We noted this invitation is to be understood in a comparative sense – Jesus’ yoke is lighter than the yoke of the Law or the yoke rabbis or Pharisees would lay upon the people, for Jesus’ yoke is the yoke of love. We are to learn that love from Jesus, and like Jesus, we are to be gentle and humble in heart.
Today’s gospel reading sets forth the well-known parable of the sower. The setting opens with Jesus sitting beside the sea. Great crowds gather and press in around him, so Jesus gets up, climbs into a boat, and moves a short distance from shore. As the people remained on shore, Jesus began to teach them in parables: “A sower went out to sow … some seeds fell on the path … some fell on rocky ground … some fell among thorns … and some fell on good soil … Let anyone with ears listen!” (Matthew 13.3-9; NRSV). The birds ate the seed on the path, the seed in rocky soils sprang up but quickly withered, the seed among the thorns was choked out. The only effective seed was that sown on good soil. Many times we interpret this parable in terms of our own shortcomings – are we the packed earth path, the rocky soil, or the thorns? What happens to the see that falls on us?
If you know anything about sowing and the high cost of seed, you might be asking, “Does this sower know what he is doing?” One would normally sow only on good soil, soil that is properly prepared. Might we be mistakenly interpreting the parable when we focus on us and our shortcomings?
I have long enjoyed Barbara Brown Taylor’s writing. Taylor is an Episcopal priest who ultimately chose to make the college classroom her ministry. Our Sunday morning adult study group has read her trilogy: Leaving Church, An Altar in the World, and Learning to Walk in the Dark. Here is what she has to say about this parable:
It has been known for centuries as the parable of the Sower, which means that there is a chance, just a chance, that we have got it all backwards. We hear the story and think it is a story about us, but what if we are wrong? What if it is not about us at all but about the sower? What if it is not about our own successes and failures and birds and rocks and thorns but about the extravagance of a sower who does not seem to be fazed by such concerns, who flings seed everywhere, wastes it with holy abandon, who feeds the birds, whistles at the rocks, picks his way through the thorns, shouts hallelujah at the good soil and just keeps on sowing, confident that there is enough seed to go around, that there is plenty, and that when the harvest comes at last it will fill every barn in the neighborhood to the rafters?
If this is really the parable of the Sower and not the parable of the different kinds of ground, then it begins to sound quite new. The focus is not on us and our shortfalls but on the generosity of our maker, the prolific sower who does not obsess about the condition of the fields, who is not stingy with the seed but who casts it everywhere, on good soil and bad, who is not cautious or judgmental or even very practical, but who seems willing to keep reaching into his seed bag for all eternity, covering the whole creation with the fertile seed of his truth.
I like her understanding and interpretation of this parable. I believe she is correct in her assertion that the parable is not about us but is rather about a prolific sower.
What is being sown? In his interpretation of the parable for the disciples, Jesus says, “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” (Matthews 13.19; NRSV). The word of the kingdom is being sown and Jesus is the sower. To take this one step further, let’s suppose the word of the kingdom and love are one and the same. When it comes to scattering seed, to scattering love, our God is a profligate God! There is love in abundance; there is more than enough for all! God throws it on the path where there is no understanding and where it is snatched away by the evil one (perhaps those whose hearts are hardened); God throws it on the rocky ground (the “one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy” yet “has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word … immediately falls away” (Matthew 13.20-21; NRSV)); God throws it among thorns (one “who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing” (Matthew 13.22; NRSV)); and God throws it on good soil (one “who hears and understands the word, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Matthew 13.23; NRSV)).
Even the yield would have been considered scandalous. More than one commentator said a typical yield was 7 – 10 seeds for each seed sown. Being an old farm boy, I wondered if they had any experience of the farm! An ear of wheat may produce a thirtyfold return and an ear of corn a hundredfold return (although those who heard Jesus’ parable would not have been familiar with corn – a “new-world” plant).
We are called as Christ’s disciples to join in sowing the word. If we are to do that, God’s word of the kingdom must have fallen on good soil such that we may produce, thereby having something to sow. We are called to sow God’s love in a profligate manner! Some of the love we sow may fall on the path and be rejected; some may fall on rocky soil, quickly take root, then die out; some may fall among the thorns where it is choked out by the cares of this world – think of those who choose to reject love for the sake of wealth, power, or prestige – and some of our love may fall on good soil where others hear and understand, where others catch a vision of new life in Christ. When sowing God’s love, we are not to consider the soil – we may sow to a crotchety person, we may sow to those who are so preoccupied by their own cares and concerns that they cannot receive – we are simply to sow with abandon. But I do like Barbara Brown Taylor’s comment about sowing on good soil with a joyful Hallelujah!
Even though the parable of the Sower is teaching us about God’s nature, of one who sows profligately, let us never forget that God would have us profligately sow the word of the kingdom, the works of love. The degree of our own profligacy is well worth considering. The more we have grown to imitate Jesus Christ, the more profligately we will sow.
“O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”