Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
First Trinity Lutheran Church
July 16, 2017
Spreading the Seed of God’s Love
In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus is having a problem that I would love to have–that when I preach on Sunday morning the crowds would be so great that I would have to sit in a boat, or maybe a more realistic example is on a ladder, to avoid being consumed by the growing crowds. This is not the problem of many churches in our area in fact over 50% of the Lutheran churches in our Metro DC Synod worship less than 50 people on a Sunday morning. But years ago it was different for so many churches, there was once the problem of not having enough space.
Over the last couple of years I have learned that church growth is a slippery concept, that it’s elusive and can’t be simply tracked back to one reason or cause. We want facts, though, things that we can do or change, forces that we can control. We see that some churches prosper when led by certain pastors, or that churches with a certain theology or worship style attract people, packing worship services with excited people, and we begin to wonder what we’re doing wrong.
In this parable, we hear about a farmer who has gone out to sow seed. The farmer seems careless, sowing seed along the path where birds would eat it up, on rocky places where the plants would sprout quickly but with shallow roots that the sun would scorch, other seed scattered among thorns that would outgrow the plants and choke them out–seed growing in all these places besides its intended destination, among the good soil.
This parable describes a farmer, but surely not a farmer who knows what he’s doing. There is no mention of plowing the field, irrigating or fertilizing it. The farmer carelessly sows seed without thinking much about the maximum yield of his field, depending on a miracle for any kind of harvest at all. Modern farmers don’t depend on miracles; they plan ahead, plowing, irrigating, and fertilizing–minimizing waste by sowing with some precision, recognizing that minimizing waste means maximizing profit.
But Jesus uses this famer as the main character of his parable and according to the parallel account told in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus interprets his parable far away from the crowds so that only the disciples hear, the disciples, who are the sowers, sowing the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
Washington DC is booming right now. Our current population is about 672,000 and it is expected to grow to 987,000 or 32 % in the next 30 years. What should we be doing to reach these new residents? Can we say that because the city is growing we should grow? Our job is to spread the seed of God’s word and if we do that the harvest should be plentiful. But like modern farmers, we do our best to control everything that we can. We maximize the soil’s fertility, adding fertilizer for growth or Round-Up to kill the weeds, doing our best not to leave too much of the process up to chance or should I say up to God.
When we seem to be successful, the temptation is to take credit for a job well done; and when we seem to struggle, we assume we have done something wrong, we haven’t planned enough. We want to maximize our yields, minimize our mistakes, and with the opportunity to control more and more we run the risk of forgetting that ours is a vital, but ultimately small, part of the great miracle God has been doing in our world since the dawn of creation.
We all know that the world is changing, and I am worried about the future of the Church, and like Pastor Phil said last week we have much to be weary about, or today worried about. I worry about the world we are living in. I worry that we are filling ourselves with the wrong things. Substance abuse, racism, gun violence, and greed consume us. Many are filled with apathy, cynicism, eating up seeds of hope and truth like birds eating seeds sown along the path. I worry about the soil–that too many in our communities are unresponsive to the Gospel, as hardened to the church as the rocky places that have no use for seeds of faith. I worry about the shallow faith of some who are attracted to messages that they want to hear, messages that do not challenge them, messages that push the Gospel into law, messages that preach a moral lessons at best and a gospel of prosperity at worst. I worry about superficial faith or a lonely faith of those who claim to be spiritual but not religious, because they lack a community that will help their faith grow. When the sun comes up, will their faith be scorched and wither into nothing? I worry about a world left to ambition, the reckless pursuit of wealth with no regard for the common good seemingly ready to choke, first the poor, then vulnerable and then all the rest of us.
But Jesus doesn’t call our attention to the seed that is lost rather he focuses on seed that fell on good soil where it produced a crop–thirty, sixty, or a hundred times what was sown. Let anyone with ears listen!”
Jesus entrusted twelve people to spread the seed and with the power of the Holy Spirit the seed has taken root and grown. Yet despite the great power of God that has transformed the world, like many of the prophets of old, we are consumed by worries. More and more of us have experienced rejection or just fearing it, so we are reluctant to reach out to people in love. We are reluctant to reach to cast seeds of hope, to invite friends into our community of faith. We are reluctant to cast seeds yet the only thing that guarantees the rejection of what we have to offer is keeping the seeds in our hand, never casting it out into the world. Rather than worrying about where all the people moved off to, the parable of the sower calls us to trust that we are not the Lord of the harvest.
The parable of the sower calls us to sow seeds of love, rather than worry over those who are not here. The parable of the sower calls us to sow seeds of grace and mercy over new ground–worried not about where it will land–concerned only with casting as much seed as possible–leaving the rest up to God. The parable of the sower demands that we sow seed. Don’t complicate matters any more than that–just sow seeds of love–and leave the rest up to God. Leave it up to God? Maybe it doesn’t sound so American, but it sure does sound faithful. Amen